In an exclusive extract from Wayne Barton’s new book, the autobiography of Rafael and Fabio Da Silva, Fabio talks about his struggles at Cardiff and how he overcame them.
“We started the next season in the Championship quite well, but had a bad run of
form when we lost in the last minute against Wolves and then Norwich came back from
two goals down to win against us. When we lost to Middlesbrough, Ole (Gunnar Solskjaer) was sacked – it was only September.
It was this and not the relegation that started a poor period in my career. I know that there was an issue with my attitude, but I was 24 and for the first time I was realising that not everybody saw it the same way as I did. I was invested in Ole, I was invested in Cardiff. I thought we were building something. But football can be cruel, short term and selfish. At United it had felt like things could stay the same forever, but even then, in the last few months, it had been different. Now it was starting to feel that I would have to change and become a little more selfish if I wanted my career to be successful. And yes, for a while there was a part of me that thought of myself as the player who had come from Manchester United and played for the Brazil national team.
I thought of myself as above the Championship, but I had only just moved there so instead it was my motivation that was the issue – I focused on my new daughter, which isn’t a bad thing, but I lost discipline with my diet and for the first time I am afraid to say that I did coast through games sometimes. I tried, of course, but it wasn’t the same level as it had been in my earlier months. I was lost as a person at a time I should be settled. I wasn’t enjoying football and was even talking to my wife about wanting to go to Brazil and play football back where I could have fun.
The Championship is a very difficult league. It takes a long time to get used to and
you can’t afford to have the attitude I had for those months. In the Premier League you know more or less where most teams will finish. You know the top six, you know who will struggle. Yes, there are surprises, but let’s say if you pick the top six you’re usually at least guaranteed four or five will be right. In the Championship if you do the same I think it’s a swing the other way. You might get two – you’ll be lucky if you get three. Even if you get the top six, you can’t predict the order of the top two. It’s crazy how many times you see teams dropping out of the Premier League who then struggle with relegation the next season.
Ole didn’t leave us in a position where we were battling for survival, but their
expectations had changed. Even fifth or sixth in the Championship wasn’t enough for them
in that moment, they wanted the top three. I can’t emphasise how much my mood diminished in this period. I felt like a different person. I wasn’t getting any enjoyment from football. I could feel that I had changed. Because of that I felt that the solution was to go back to Brazil and restart my life and career.
It was my wife who convinced me to consider solutions that would see us remain in Europe. She said we should make more of an effort to settle in locally. We should start bringing family to us more often. It was a conversation that lasted for a long time. In the pre-season after a full year in the Championship, we returned to Brazil to spend some time with our families. Our parents had spent two years in Manchester before returning home and so, we would return as often as we could.
There, my father had some advice for me personally. He told me how he remembered our love of football from when we were young. That the reason for us going to Europe was because we had determination to succeed and be winners. He told me that I shouldn’t forget it. He said I shouldn’t react this way to setbacks in my life. These were important conversations with me because it helped me realise that I had changed because of those disappointments. I wanted to desperately return to the way I was, the way I knew I could be, and the best way I could do that was not to accept defeat and adapt to these new circumstances. It was to meet the challenge head on and try to succeed. It was the only way I could feel fulfilled.
I was lucky that the mood around the club was also more positive on my return. There was a strong feeling now that Russell Slade, who had spent some time getting used
to the squad, had settled in after succeeding Ole. I was committed – maybe a little too committed, as I ended up being the player with the worst disciplinary record with nine yellow cards and a red card, but I was enjoying myself again and enjoyed my favourite moment in a Cardiff shirt when I scored one of the best goals of my career – a long range shot against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium. Unfortunately for us on the day they came back to win and that was a metaphor for how our season ended – we went into the last couple of games with a really good chance of getting into the playoffs, but lost at Sheffield Wednesday and left us facing another year in the Championship.
Russell was a funny character. When you won, he’d celebrate with the players and sometimes get more drunk than the players. He was one of the lads – it was the first time I’d ever experienced this in my career, where a coach was as involved with the players as much as he was. It took me some time to get used to. Russell was doomed to the same fate as Ole and Paul Trollope came in as his successor. Our time together was brief but memorable.
Paul was making a name for himself as one of the outstanding coaches in the game – he had been part of the coaching staff for Wales at the European Championships that year – and Cardiff gave him a chance as first team manager. I really enjoyed working with him. Wales had played three at the back and that was the system Paul adopted at Cardiff. I loved playing wing-back and I’m sure that Paul was really looking forward to how it would work and then, in the last week
of pre-season, Middlesbrough came in with an offer.”
The Sunshine Kids: The autobiography of Rafael & Fabio Da Silva is out now via Pitch Publishing